Holy Heart Burn

Heartburn…today is not about the kind of burn you get after visiting a Popeyes. It is about how it feels to be near the Creator, to know that truth is being told, and it is a truth that brings you great joy. Jesus is not dead but is alive.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? The men in the tomb asked the women who first looked in.

He is not here but has risen.

Jesus is alive. Even now we can experience his word, his work, his love. It is that experience that propels us outside of our smaller selves into the people God seeks us to be…kingdom builders.

When we are on the right path…we feel the fire, the burn, in our heart.

In college, I found my way back to church. My life seemed all so incomplete. When I tried to make it complete by dating a boy that I wasn’t really attracted to, I drew a deep breath and asked the universe…”Is this all there is?” And I got word…find yourself a church.

Having experienced the UCC as a child, I knew I’d find a welcome there even if I wasn’t ready to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and Savior…which I wasn’t…I was trying to figure out God…figure out love. That’s why, as your pastor, I encourage us to be who we are, sing out of faith, proclaim it with joy, but never, ever, ever try to argue someone into faith. Live it. Be it. Reveal it. Walk with people until their hearts burn.

That’s exactly what the church did for me when I was in college. I tried more evangelical churches because they had a good recruiting machine. When I got into their worship, it felt like a cult. Abandon reason, put hands in the air, cry out for Jesus…if you don’t…well, you know where you are headed. That’s what Mariners was when I went to college.

At the UCC church, the pastor welcomed me in. I religiously went to worship and all the small classes offered. And every time I went, I was excited, something inside of me moved. I went for many years, not joining the church because I wasn’t ready to give my heart to God…even though God already had it. I knew where I belonged even before I knew to whom I belonged.

My heart continued to burn when I went to a small church in Moreno Valley during my teaching years. The pastor gave me the opportunity to write and speak invocations and other prayers. It was so exciting to sit in my car and to contemplate how I would bring the Holy Spirit into the sanctuary with my words, to be a conduit through which God could touch lives. I got involved, very involved. And, eventually so did David, who was on the Board of the church even as I was across the country in seminary. It is there we were married.

When I went to seminary…oh, how my heart burned and tears would pour from my eyes as professors would speak of how God chased after us as a lover chases after his beloved. My evangelical friend Tessa would speak about having a glorious weekend with the Lord; I was also inspired by reading the gospel of John for the first time… I was hooked on Jesus

Now I’ve spent 17 years serving churches as an ordained pastor with Jesus by my side–a living Jesus by my side. It is a living Jesus who gives me the ability to walk with people through the toughest times in their lives. It is a living Jesus who appears in my prayers and calls me to take his hand when I am discouraged. It is a living Jesus who gives me the vision to know that this church body is destined to be a testimony to the living God. It is the living Jesus that gives me the strength to knock down the obstacles that have been erected to keep you from your purpose.

Holy heart burn…no it’s not Robin speaking to Batman…

It is like the moment of excitement that courses through your body when you are aware that you are witnessing a miracle.

I heard about a Guns and Roses concert. The radio announcers spoke of it, people lined up, it was big. I know nothing about G N R but my intuition suggested there was something more going than just a concert. So I took an extra step, googled Guns and Roses at the Troubedour and read…

“For GNR fans, this was their first exhale after 23 years of being suffocated by their seemingly doomed destiny as rock’s most forgotten fan base. Since the band’s meltdown between 1991 and 1997, we’ve had no closure. We couldn’t even get a proper Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2012, when Axl bailed, then penned an open letter that confused fans even more.”

Axl, the lead singer of the band, apparently has a bit of a reputation of not being cooperative.

Ah, so the concert was a reunion, bringing a band back together who had, in the heat of their fame, lost one another. Their playing together again was, for many, a sign that miracles do happen; a visible sign of reconciliation.

The fan writes: “There wasn’t a single person at the Troubadour who wasn’t pinching themselves into bruises, or wishing they were allowed to document this on their cellphone.”

Holy heart burn…the fans were witnessing a miracle.

Two men, two ordinary men, Cleopas and his friend, are on the way to the city of Emmaus.   They are not disciples. They weren’t even necessarily Jesus followers.

As they walk, a man joins them, and asks what is happening. The men explain that there had been this Jesus character who all had hoped would bring the redemption of Israel but he had been crucified. In response, the stranger opens the scripture and tells of the words of the prophets.

Notice this…Jesus doesn’t try to convince them of who he is. He simply walks with them, tells them what they need to know. It takes time for a band to come back together; it takes time for people to recognize the light.

When the three people arrive at the city, the stranger is ready to go on.

But Cleopas and his friend hey did something more than just walk with a stranger. They did something more than just allow him to come by their side for the time of the journey. They invited him in. They invited him to stay with them. They invited him to eat with them.   Having been touched by Jesus, even before they knew it, they would not let go…they took the extra step. Yes…that extra step gave them the ticket to see the miracle. Jesus sitting with them at the table, breaking bread…their eyes were opened…He LIVES! Holy Heartburn!!

Listen, God’s kingdom comes alive when Jesus people take the extra step.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to present our parent and me exercise class at a DCFS meeting. This is a new thing. DCFS is sponsoring churches to provide ways for community to connect. The woman who leads the faith based initiative invited all the participating churches to come. Only 2 of the 7 did. How rare it is for churches to take the extra step even when someone is reaching out to them.

Before my portion, a gentleman gave a presentation for DCFS workers who are working to create teams that will help a family be a family. The presenter suggested that case workers use a scale question when asking questions of the families they work with. Working with a family to help them move forward together, he suggested a case worker ask on a scale from 1 – 10 how are you doing being a parent to your child this week? If they say a “5”…then respond with, “okay, what can be done to make it a 6.”

Notice they don’t try to make it a “10” immediately. All that’s expected from a family…all that’s expected from a family of God…is one more step.

Take one more step. We don’t need to become the perfect disciples, just people willing to reach out a little further, as simple as inviting someone we are already speaking with to come and sit with us awhile or saying yes and sitting awhile with one you do not know.

Holy heartburn…Jesus is alive…you will see the living Jesus as you witness the changes in one another; you will see Jesus as you see changes in strangers who stop in awhile. Together, with the living Jesus, we will be a sign of reconciliation, a witness to miracles, a changer of our world, and a builder of God’s kingdom.

Come on…let’s take the extra step!

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